Early Life of Genghis Khan

July 4, 2014 9:13 am

Age of Conquerors takes a look of the life and times of Temujin, the boy who would grow up to become Genghis Khan and conquer most of the world.

Birth of a Conqueror

Temujin, the man who would become Genghis Khan and conquer most of the known world, was born in 1162AD on the harsh plains of Mongolia. He was the third son of Yesugei, a Mongol Chief of the Kiyad clan. Legend says he was born with a blood clot grasped in his fist, a traditional Mongol sign that he was destined for greatness.

genghis kahnMongolia is a vast country with no central cities or towns. Mongols are nomads so people live in tribes and travel from place to place depending on the time of the year. They tend to their herds and hunt wild boar and other wild game. They move as often as the wind and find new ground for their herds of goats to graze. It is a very difficult life. Temperatures in the winter can plummet to minus 20 degrees. Temujin, like most Mongols, lived in these harsh conditions and they helped mould him into the warrior that was to wipe whole cities from the face of the Earth.

In 1171AD when Temujin was still a boy of 9 his father arranged his marriage. These arranged marriages were very important to the early structure of Mongol society. Each clan has a leader or ‘Khan’ who will marry off their offspring in a bid to form alliances with other, stronger clans and so strengthen their position. Temujin’s father was no different. He saw the benefits of arranging a marriage to a strong clan and sought out such a union for his son.

Temujin choose Borte from the Onggriat clan who were an ally of his clan. On their journey home they met a rival clan, the Tartas, on sacred ground and so, as Mongol traditions dictated, no blood could be split. They exchanged food in deference to each other but the Tartas poisoned the goat’s milk they offered and killed Temujin’s father.


Early Life of Temujin

The young Temujin was now the clan’s leader but as he was just a boy of 9, the other warriors expelled his family to the harsh Mongolian plains and stole their horses and goats. That winter saw the young Genghis fighting for his survival along with his mother and brothers and sister. When Temujin was only 10 years old he killed his half-brother over the spoils of a hunt. This helped him to cement his position as head of the family.

While Temujin was out hunting he was captured by an enemy clan, the Tayichi’uds. He was short for his age and this might well have saved him from the blade. If a person is smaller than a wheel of a cart then they cannot be slayed so he was enslaved in stocks. He escaped with the help of an elderly warrior who sensed a power and greatness in the young Mongol. Now free, Temujin was able to finally marry his first love, Borte, but things would never be peaceful in the young conquerors life and his relationship with Borte would see him rise to become one of the most powerful men the world has ever seen.

In the spring of 1178, when Temujin was 16 he married Borte but their happiness was short lived. The Merkits stole his bride and this forced the young warrior to go to war. His blood brother, Jamukha, was the Khan of his tribe, the Jadaran, and agreed to destroy the Merkits and free Temujin’s bride.


Uniting the Tribes

genghis kahnTemujin proved his valour and skill as a general in war and soon began to attract many warriors to his banner. He believed in rewarding warriors based on their intelligence and skill in battle. He valued loyalty above all else and began to ascribe a number of codes that his followers would obey. These laws became known as the Yassa, and Teumjin was the first Mongol to organise his clan into a supreme fighting force, disciplined on and off the battle field. Each warrior was entitled to the spoils of war and every fallen warrior’s family would be compensated with goats and horses. By now Temujin and Jamukha were the two strongest Khans in Mongolia and met in battle to decide who would become supreme leader or Great Khan of the Mongols.

The exact date of the battle is unknown but what is recorded is a decisive victory for Temujin over his blood brother. After the battle word spread of the prowess and generosity of Temujin in his treatment of his troops and soon more and more warriors swelled his ranks.

In 1206AD all the major tribes of Mongolia met and in a ceremony never before seen on the steppes, declared Temujin Genghis Khan, leader of all the Mongol people. Not satisfied with pacifying and uniting his country, the Great Khan set his sights on China and expansion into the east.


Mongol Tactics

Each Mongol warrior was armed with his bow and a quiver packed full of arrows and a curved blade known as a Scimitar. Along with these formidable weapons of war, each warrior was allocated two to four horses. This allowed the Mongol horde to cover vast amounts of land in a short period of time. During their campaign into central Europe they marched 100 miles in one day, from Sheffield to Middlesbrough, and crushed every army sent to stop the advancing horde of Mongols.

The Mongol army fought not as one single unit but as cells, all interdependent to each other and controlled by a General who gave orders using a complicated system of war drums. The Mongols were nearly always outnumbered by their enemies but by using their extra horses and war drums they seemed to swell in numbers to enemy scouts who would report seeing a swarm of horses and war drums beating as long and loud and terrifying as anything he would have heard.

During combat the Mongols tailored their manoeuvers to their enemy weaknesses. When they fought European armies, composed of knights in heavy armour and foot soldiers they primarily used their light horse archers to scatter the advancing knights and then retreat. The knights would pursue the retreating Mongols only to be ambushed and slaughtered. This tactic proved extremely efficient when Genghis Khan sent two generals to crush European armies.


Enter the Dragon – Mongol Conquest of China

genghis kahnIn 1207AD, one year after Genghis Khan was proclaimed leader of all Mongolia he set his sights and military might on his closer neighbours, the Western Xia, Jin Dynasty and the Song Dynasty. These vast kingdoms spread the length and breadth of modern day China and had an uneasy alliance with the Mongol Empire. Genghis believed his power and right to conqueror the world was divine so he gave little credence to the established borders between Mongolia and the combined Chinese Kingdoms.

Leaving Mongolia, Genghis Khan, along with a combined force of 50,000 men crossed the Gobi Desert and began small raids on villages and towns in Xia territory. The Mongol army was a well drilled and disciplined force and though largely outnumbered by their Chinese counterparts easily defeated them in open battle. The Mongols used brutal tactics that would later become synonymous with Mongol campaigns into Europe and the Far East. If a city relented and accepted Genghis Khan as their overlord they were spared; if not a terrible fate awaited. The Great Khan once rounded up the population of an entire city that had defied him and inflicted many casualties on his army. He ordered them to stand in the city’s main square and told them he was the scourge of God and executed every one of them. He made a mountain of skulls out of men, women and children.  His reign lasted for only 21 years but in that time his empire was bigger than the Roman Empire and that of Alexander the Great.


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